Setting Your Intentions for Tough Conversations


One of the hallmarks of a great leader is their ability to truly “see” viewpoints other than their own. They may not agree with these viewpoints, but they can learn to understand them. Learning to understand is the first step toward resolution and reconciliation.

It’s unfortunate that many of us allow someone else’s viewpoint (different from our own) to prevent a productive relationship that can ultimately benefit our organization or community. From the beginning of the realization that someone thinks differently, decides differently or is different, we shut out their ideas. We may, avoid, ignore or openly (and loudly) oppose them. Either way, this does great damage to our ability to lead well. The crevasse between our way and their way will just get wider.

Who are you avoiding or opposing?

Who might you be avoiding or openly opposing at work? This could be an employee, peer, customer, or  your manager. It could be an entire division or business unit. Take a second to think about where the opposing viewpoints are in your organization; most of us have someone or something in our organization or community that we have avoided or verbally opposed without resolution.

Before things become completely and irreparably broken in this non-relationship, consider what it might be like if the relationship was as it should be – healthy and mutually beneficial for the greater good of your organization, your community, yourself and the those you don’t see eye to eye with.

Then schedule a conversation with the opposition.

What are your intentions?

Make sure the conversation, on your part, is intentional. To be intentional in the conversation doesn’t mean that you will control the outcome; it means that you set your intention for how you will show up in that conversation. This is not about changing the other person’s viewpoint or behavior (remember, you can’t change others). However, it will be about what you will accomplish in terms of understanding their side and possibly  finding some common ground.

Here’s a start on what your intentions might be:

To set ego and judgments aside: I will have a better chance of understanding the viewpoint of the other person if I set my own ego and judgment aside. When I am not striving to achieve an outcome that works only for me (ego) and I avoid judging the worth of the other’s beliefs, I’ve created a space for a true melding of our minds.

Be curious: I will be curious about the opinions of the other person in this conversation. This gives them permission to be open and explain their viewpoint; it also allows me to discover where we might agree. I will ask open ended questions that help us to explore viewpoints and keep the conversation engaging and creative.

Listen: I will go beyond just hearing the words. I will turn off my mind-chatter and listen deeply to what the other has to say. This kind of listening brings me a step beyond trying to figure out what I need to say next (in an effort to get my own point across).

Seek common ground: I will seek to find points of agreement. When I find them (and I will), I will acknowledge (out loud) that we agree on these points. I will look within this common ground for understanding as well as for possible collaboration.

Taking the time to reflect and write out your intentions is essential.

Setting your intentions for seeing another’s viewpoint is the beginning of healing in the relationship and is the right step for your organization too. What intentions will you set for that upcoming tough conversation?


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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.

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